Travel Guide to Panama
Planning to visit Panama? Panama is one of those hidden gems of Central America. Many people consider spending a vacation in Panama because it is home to The Panama Canal, the most significant waterway in the world. Panama also offers greatly inexpensive local transportation, tropical weather, views of new and the old Panama. The people, the culture, the beaches, tropical rain forests and more, await your discovery.
Stand on the isthmus! This narrow stretch of land exists between two continents (North and South America) and visitors can easily travel between the Northern Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) and the North Pacific Ocean. Visit and understand the deep and detailed history of Panama. This small but important Country connects more than just landmass.
Whether you are spending for a package tour or following your own DIY itinerary, it is time to visit Panama!
WHEN TO GO
The coldest winter months in the northern hemisphere (January and February) are the best months to visit Panama.
WHAT TO WEAR
Light clothing that flows well. Also hats, sunglasses, sandals for touring or lightweight shoes for touring the city are highly recommended. An easily toted umbrella or light, collapsible rain gear is necessary for occasional rain showers.
The temperature in Panama is fairly constant – ranging from a humid 75° to 85° F (26° to 28° C). Rainfall, however, is what to watch for as Panama hosts a tropical rain forest environment.
Historically, rainfall totals rise beginning in March from 2.2 inches (5.59 cm) scaling up to December’s whopping 11.59 inch (29.44 cm). In January and February enjoy a declining and relatively nominal 1.5 to 3 inch monthly average (3.81 cm to 7.62 cm). Perfect for enjoying the many water tours Panama has to offer.
Prices in the capital of Panama, Panama City, commiserate with typical prices in the U.S. unless you are buying the same items you might buy in the States. A friendly reminder that state-side items must be imported to this Central America vacation spot. You can avoid the extra fee by purchasing local brands. This said the shopping mecca in Panama City is the Multi Plaza Pacific Mall.
A massive shopping experience, the Plaza is considered to be the experience of luxury shopping with names like Gucci, Armani, Versace, and Tiffany; however, there is something for everyone with Central America and the U.S. and European chains included.
Rated number 11 of the 126 best things to do in Panama City by Trip Advisor ™, this mall was created to entice travelers from all over Latin America and offers everything from banking, pharmacies, an entire level devoted to restaurants, to food shopping at its massive supermarket, and of course clothing and accessories.
Private transfers are offered from many of the hotels. Local shuttles, rental cars, ferries, and public buses, are also available. In Panama City, the public Metro Bus can get you almost anywhere for as little as $0.35 – $1.25 (USD). If you travel light, you can travel from Tocumen International Airport to downtown using the Metro Bus for just $1.25!
WHERE TO GO
The Panama Canal and Museum!
Tours of the Canal are offered locally and can also be included within an all-in origin to destination Tour Company. The present-day Panama City, the largest city in Panama and home to the canal is considered the financial hub as well as the administrative center of the country. There is a wonderful museum at Miraflores which overlooks the canal where visitors can learn, in detail, the history of this wondrous engineering feat.
A brief history of the canal includes that the construction of the Canal began in the late 19th century by France. The goal was to expand on the usefulness of the Suez Canal and easily transverse between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The significant human loss occurred throughout construction due to bacteria causing diseases the Europeans had no immunity for along with rugged terrain current day engineering was not yet sufficient to easily conquer, the project was abandoned. The United States of America took it on, suffering only slightly less with the health and environmental challenges they changed the original free-flowing waterway project to a lock system.
In a lock system, a number of vessels are “parked” inside an open top enclosure. The existing water level when entered is pumped in or out, as needed, to meet the water level on the exit side. Vessels are then herded into the lock structure from the exiting side where the opposite takes place. Imagine an 87 foot (26.5 meters) water displacement where massive vessels are raised from the Caribbean Sea to meet the canal! The construction ended in 1914. In 1977 the canal was transferred to Panamanian ownership.
The ruins of Panama Viejo (Old Panama)
A world heritage site since 1997, Panama Viejo, is the former capital of the country. Founded by Spain where it was the base for transporting gold and silver back home.
The city was beleaguered with traumatic and devastating occurrences over the one and one-half centuries from its beginning in 1519. It suffered fires, physical attacks by pirates and other attempting conquerors, and earthquakes. Still, almost 500 years later, the ruins exist in an approximate two-block area. Visitors can well imagine the time past and the trial and tribulations of the old city by viewing the still standing cathedral bell tower and the ruins of neighboring stone buildings and their walls.
Tribes of Panama
For the sake of brevity, we will look at two welcoming tribes of Panama. A tourist attraction for some, for many others a privileged view into people that have held segregate laws and traditions for centuries. To have the privilege of meeting and speaking with these cultures is an amazing experience and education into the people that have resisted modernity in order to remain in the lifestyles they personally value.
Kuna Tribal Market Place
Approximately 35,000 people, mainly living on Islands of San Blas keep their own laws and politics. A community of Kuna Indians stays in Panama City where they offer tourists and residents alike the ability to speak with them of their heritage and history and to purchase handmade clothing, jewelry, and other art-like items. Most well-known is the Mola (women’s blouse) which is a colorful and intricately stitched garment. The detailed and colorful clothing is the perfect purchase for continuing your tour!
Taking advantage of the many tours departing from Panama City includes traveling along the Chagres River and into the rainforests of Panama. One such tour will bring you to one of the Embera villages. Again, they govern themselves peacefully. The Embera preserve, through natural use, the Choco language.
For their own use and for purchase they make tightly woven palm fiber baskets for portage and the artwork they traditionally continue includes intricate carvings from, for two examples, the cocobolo tree and tagua nuts. Carvings also include utensils and other living necessities.
The Embera’s environment in the rainforest includes and enjoys not just indigenous birds but colorful butterflies. The rainforest environment is also home to rare orchids, such as the Lophiaris silverarum.
HOW TO GO
Book your own itinerary and choose from the plethora of tours available through Caravan.com for Panama City or travel with a trusted tour company.
About The Author
Jon Kelly is a freelance writer and travel enthusiast who writes on behalf of Caravan.com Tours. Being blessed with the freedom to visit destinations all over the world for his job, he enjoys documenting his travels in hopes of providing insightful and inspiring stories.